French Indian Ocean island erupts over immigration, insecurity

A protest last week in Mayotte's biggest town, Mamoudzou

The French government attempted Monday to end weeks of unrest on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, with a visiting minister promising action against insecurity and an influx of migrants from neighbouring African islands that has severely strained public services. Mayotte, an island of 250,000 people that is geographically part of the Comoros archipelago off southeast Africa, has been in turmoil since mid-February. Violent clashes between rival gangs at a school acted as a touchstone for anger over spiralling crime which many residents blame on migrants from non-French Comoran islands. Over the past three weeks the island, which voted to become an integral part of France in 2009, has been plagued by strikes, demonstrations and road blocks aimed at drawing the attention of the government in Paris to the situation. Minister for overseas territories Annick Girardin was loudly booed by protesters on her arrival on the main island of Grande-Terre, where she announced police reinforcements and more migration patrols. Ahead of her visit the government promised to tackle the phenomenon of pregnant women arriving by boat from nearby islands to give birth on French soil, as a way of obtaining French and EU citizenship for their child. The Comoros, one of the world's poorest countries, was a French colony until 1975 when it declared independence. Mayotte however opted to remain part of France, first as an "overseas collectivity", then later as a full "department". Around 70 percent of the 10,000 babies born in the maternity hospital of Mayotte's biggest town Mamoudzou are born to illegal migrants, mainly from the nearby Comoran islands of Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore, according to official statistics. Mayotte is not the only overseas French territory that has become a magnet for migrants while itself trying to play catch-up with mainland France on health, housing and education. French Guiana, situated between Brazil and Surinam in South America, has experienced a surge of arrivals from Haiti and neighbouring countries in recent years that has also put pressure on under-resourced hospitals and schools. The government has said it is considering giving Mayotte's maternity hospital special "extra-territorial" status so that children born there do not automatically qualify for citizenship by birth.